FOR about a decade, the acclaimed company Dreamthinkspeak have
been changing expectations of what theatre can do to body and soul.
They provide multisensory experiences in venues that look nothing
like theatres. In Liverpool Cathedral, they reimagined Dante's
Divine Comedy by taking us on a journey from dank cellars
to exhilarating spires. The Rest Is Silence was a
revelatory staging of Hamlet, the audience standing
trapped among glass cabinets in which the claustrophobic court of
Elsinore was conjured in film and live action.
Now the director Tristan Sharps turns his teeming imagination to
the Revelation of St John. In The Beginning Was The
End, although too uneven in tone to be perfect, creates images
of a frightening future that are as unforgettable as the grotesque
visions in the final book of the Bible. And, like Revelation, it
demands that we change or face the consequences.
The production takes place in a wing of Somerset House never
normally seen by the public. Audience members are admitted a few at
a time, and wander from room to room, stumbling on artworks, films,
and live drama. In the dimly lit bowels of the building, scientists
are oblivious of us as they obsess over chalky equations, Leonardo
da Vinci's diagrams, or the physical properties of lemons. Pushing
open doors, not knowing who or what lies behind them, becomes
Suddenly, we are swept into the bright perfection of a global
corporation's open day. The company produces ingenious gadgets that
cocoon the wealthy against anything undesirable or emotionally
challenging. It is a comically appealing vision of technological
Upstairs, however, away from the whitewashed rooms and
consciences of the open day, we discover the cost to human lives of
creating this world. Berated employees type never-ending replies to
complaints until they reach breaking-point. The exhausted planet
begins to respond in unpredictable ways. Meetings take place
between terrified people asking what can be done to repair their
ruined livelihoods. And, in a scene that would be beautiful were it
not so frightful, men tumble to suicidal deaths outside the windows
in agonised slow motion.
Putting a horrifying apocalypse alongside scenes of satirical
humour means that the production never coheres as the visions of
Revelation do. But images from the Bible recur throughout the 90
minutes it takes to walk through. A ranting John the Baptist
repeatedly warns us to change. Workers refuse to comply with a
system that strips them of dignity, and protest as naked as Isaiah.
And, as a new Flood engulfs humanity, some are swept away, some buy
their way out of difficulty, and some must learn how to live
underwater. An alternative Eden, sweet with the scent of lemons, is
our last, faltering hope.
In The Beginning Was The End runs at Somerset House, Strand,
London WC2, until 30 March. Tickets are booked through the National
Theatre box office and website (click on "Other venues"). Phone 020
7452 3000. www.nationaltheatre.org.uk